by Rev. Robert Skeris
The Gospel of the Eight Beatitudes is surely one of the best beloved passages in all of Holy Writ, and deservedly so. For the fact is that men of all climes and times have regarded the Beatitudes as the ladder, so to speak, or the staircase by which the saints have ever ascended to heaven. And if we desire to be with the saints in heaven, then each of us must also mount these same rungs, patiently and perseveringly, hand in hand with our Divine Master. Let us therefore take each Beatitude in turn, and reflect upon its meaning briefly, asking Almighty God to enlighten our minds and our hearts as we do.
BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. They are poor in spirit who, like the apostles, leave all temporal things for Christ’s sake and become poor; they who have lost their property by misfortune or injustice, and bear this loss with patience and resignation to the will of God; they who are contented with their poor and lowly station in life, do not strive for greater fortune or a higher position, and would rather suffer want than make themselves rich by unlawful means; they who, though rich, do not love wealth, nor set their hearts upon it, but use their riches to aid the poor; and especially they who are humble, that is, who have no exalted opinion of themselves, but are convinced of their weakness and inward poverty, have a low estimate of themselves and therefore feel always their need, and like poor mendicants, continually implore God’s grace and assistance.
BLESSED ARE THE MEEK, FOR THEY SHALL POSSESS THE LAND. He is meek who represses every rising impulse of anger, impatience and desire of revenge, and willingly puts up with everything that God, to prove him, decrees or permits to happen to him, or that men inflict upon him. He who thus controls himself is like a calm and tranquil sea, in which the image of the divine Sun is ever reflected.
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT MOURN, FOR THEY SHALL BE COMFORTED. The mourners mentioned here are not those who weep and lament over the death of relatives and friends, or over misfortune or loss of temporal riches, but those who mourn that God is so often offended, so little loved and honored by men, that so many souls, redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ, are lost. Among these mourners are also those who lead a strict and penitential life, and patiently endure distress; for sin is the only evil, the only thing to be lamented; and those tears only, which are shed on account of sin, are useful tears, and are recompensed by everlasting joy and eternal consolation.
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT HUNGER AND THIRST AFTER JUSTICE, FOR THEY SHALL HAVE THEIR FILL. Hunger and thirst denote the ardent longing for those virtues which constitute Christian perfection. He who seeks such perfection with ardent desire and earnest striving, will be filled, that is, will be adorned by God with the most beautiful virtues, and will be abundantly rewarded in heaven.
BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL FOR THEY SHALL OBTAIN MERCY. They are merciful who assist the poor according to their means, who practice every possible spiritual and corporal work of mercy, who as far as they can, patiently endure the faults of others, strive always to excuse them, and willingly forgive the injuries they have received. They especially are truly merciful, who are merciful to their enemies and do good to them, as it is written: Love your enemies, and do good to them that hate you. Well is it for him who is merciful, the greatest rewards are promised him; but a judgment without mercy shall be passed on the unmerciful.
BLESSED ARE THE CLEAN OF HEART, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD. They are clean of heart who carefully preserve the innocence which they received in Baptism, and keep their heart and conscience free not only from all sinful words and deeds; but from all sinful thoughts and desires, and in all their omissions and commission think only and desire only good. These, while yet on earth, see God in all His works and creatures, because their thoughts are directed always to the Highest Good. And in the other world they will see Him face to face, enjoying in this contemplation a peculiar pleasure which is reserved for pure souls only; for as the eye that would see well must be clear, so must those souls be immaculate who are to see God.
BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS FOR THEY SHALL BE CALLED THE CHILDREN OF GOD. Those are peacemakers who guard their improper desires, who are careful to have peace in their consciences and regulated tranquility in all their actions, who do not quarrel with their neighbors, and are submissive to the will of God. These are called children of God, because they follow God who is a God of peace, and who even gave His only Son to reconcile the world, and bring upon earth that peace which the world does not know and cannot give.
BLESSED ARE THEY THAT SUFFER PERSECUTION FOR JUSTICE’ SAKE, FOR THEIRS IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. Those suffer persecution for justice’ sake who by their words, writings, or by their lives defend the truth, the faith, and Christian virtues; who cling firmly to God, and permit nothing to turn them from the duties of the Christian profession, from the practice of their holy religion; but on its account suffer hatred, contempt, disgrace, injury, and injustice even like the saints, with joy. Then they will become like the saints and like them receive the heavenly crown. And if we wish to be crowned with them, we too must suffer with them; as St. Paul wrote to Timothy, And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.
The rungs of the ladder formed by the eight Beatitudes can also be described and thought of in terms of the virtues; let us therefore beseech Almighty God, that He grant us all the grace to serve Him in sanctity and justice, in poverty and humility, in meekness and repentance, in the ardent desire for all virtues, by mercy, perfect purity of heart, in peacefulness and patience, following in the footsteps of the Divine Master, His only Son Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and glory, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.